|Volume 19 Number 5 May 2017||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Deacons are “servants” of the local congregation rather than “leaders” of the church. Instead, God determined that fully organized local congregations of the Lord’s church are to be led by “elders” or “bishops” who have been appointed in accordance with divinely stipulated biblically recorded qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Only indirectly, then, do deacons lead, comparable to the distinction in roles that God ordained between men and women for the home and for religion—today, the church (1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-14). Hence, the qualifications for “deacons” pertain to males rather than to females (1 Timothy 3:8-13).
Therefore, deacons do not have a leadership role in the Lord’s church above that of any other faithful male member. Deacons are not “junior elders,” and being a deacon does not necessarily mean that someday he will be promoted to being an elder. A deacon is a servant, and any decisions that he may make in keeping with his special assignment from the elders are likewise with the general permission of the elders. Those decisions are expected and necessary for carrying out his assigned responsibility in service to the congregation. Nevertheless, following, we purpose to examine what the New Testament reveals concerning the qualifications, appointment, work and office of deacons.
The English words “deacon” and “deacons” appear only five times in the Bible (“deacon,” 1 Timothy 3:10, 13; “deacons,” Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 12). The two related Greek words translated “deacon” and “deacons” together appear about 67 times. The Greek diakonos is translated “minister” (20), “servant” (8) and “deacon” (3). The Greek diakoneo is translated “minister unto” (15), “serve” (10), “minister” (7) and miscellaneous (5). Greek definitions of these two words assign persons so described to service activities. The Greek diakonos means to run errands, to perform menial duties, table-server, supplier of material needs, a servant of someone or a helper. The Greek diakoneo means to wait upon, to care for and shares many of the same definitions of diakonos.
There is sufficient information within the New Testament to ascertain the qualifications, appointment, work and office of deacons. Numerous passages use the Greek words sometimes translated “deacon” to describe service activity when they do not refer to special servants called deacons. Qualifications for special servants called deacons appear in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
All of the original language definitions for our English word “deacon” pertain to actively working: to run errands, to perform menial duties, table-server, supplier of material needs, a servant of someone, a helper, to wait upon or to care for. Consequently, the words “minister” and “servant” or some form of these words is used to convey what they do.
Diakonos differs from doulos (slave). Doulos emphasizes one’s relationship to his master, whereas, diakonos emphasizes one’s activity in his work. Each office in the church is an office of responsibility rather than a position of honor. Preachers preach! Teachers teach! Elders rule (Hebrews 13:7, 17) or oversee (Acts 20:28)! Deacons serve!
Deacons have work to do in the church. It would be as useless and unbiblical for deacons not to serve in some particular activity as it would be for a preacher not to actually preach or for a teacher not to actually teach. The nature of the work of a deacon is primarily service orientated.
Other usages of the Greek words for “deacon” in the New Testament demonstrate the biblical meaning of the “deacon.” Note that the word translated sometimes as “deacon” is otherwise associated in Scripture with domestic servants (John 2:5, 9), civil ministers (Romans 13:4), Jesus Christ as a minister (Romans 15:8; Galatians 2:17), Christians as servants to each other (Matthew 20:26; 23:11), Gospel ministers (Ephesians 3:7; 6:21; Colossians 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Timothy 4:6), servants of the church (Romans 16:1) and servants to a king (Matthew 22:13). [The RSV translates (transliterates) diakonos as “deaconess.” Though it is apparent that Phebe was a special servant of the church, no woman can meet the marital specification of 1 Timothy 3:11.]
Qualifications of Deacons
Strictly speaking, biblical qualifications for deacons only appear in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The qualifications for a candidate to become a deacon include being “grave” (KJV) or “reverent” (NKJV), which is serious and dignified, sober minded and conduct commanding respect. He must be “not double-tongued,” which is not talking two ways to suit the person with whom one is at the time, speaking one thing and meaning another or not using words deceitfully. In addition, the deacon must “not given to much wine” or not to engage in alcohol or acting as though under the influence of it. It is erroneous to conclude from 1 Timothy 3:3 that elders must abstain from all alcohol, but that deacons can have some alcohol and that other Christians have no restriction regarding alcohol. Rather, these and other passages forbid the pleasurable consumption of alcohol (so-called social drinking).
Qualifications continue with “not greedy of filthy lucre.” The deacon must be one who is not seeking ill-gotten gain, is the type of character who can faithfully manage money and who possesses an opposite trait of Judas (John 12:6). Further, he can be described as “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” That means the deacon has a clear understanding of God’s Word and conducts himself accordingly; he is dependable to faithfully practice Christianity. The Gospel was called a “mystery” (Ephesians 3:3-11) before it was fully revealed. Other writers refer to a “pure conscience” (1 Peter 3:21; Hebrews 9:14; 10:22).
Prior to appointment as a deacon, a man must be “first proved” or “tested” by experience in Christian service; he has a history of being a good worker for Jesus Christ. Appointment as a deacon is not an honorary position. In addition, a deacon must be “blameless,” not deserving of public rebuke, unimpeachable and irreproachable. All Christians are to be blameless (1 Corinthians 1:8; Colossians 1:22).
The candidate for appointment as a deacon is married, the “husband of one wife.” He is not a polygamist. It is erroneous to conclude from this verse that a biblically remarried widower or divorced person does not qualify to be a deacon. The verse merely teaches that a man who would be a deacon could only have had one wife at a time—not a polygamist. Furthermore, those who would be appointed as deacons must be known to be “ruling their children and their own houses well,” that is, rightly governing their families, inclusive of one or more children.
Servants of Acts 6:1-7
One of the two Greek words translated “deacon” appears in this account, “serve tables” from diakoneo. The men in Acts 6:1-7 were selected to be special servants of the Jerusalem church, comparable in service activity usually associated with that of deacons. However, the qualifications for selection of those chosen in Acts 6 differs from the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Simply, they were to be honest and full of the Holy Spirit.
It is clear from Acts 6 regarding the caliber of men to be chosen to serve the church in an official capacity that they must be guided by God’s Word. The nature of the work of special servants or deacons pertains to physical activity (irrespective of what else they may do, e.g., teaching or preaching, Philip in Acts 8). The congregation is to choose men from among itself to serve.
Sub-Qualifications of Deacons
In order for a man to be qualified to be appointed as a deacon, his wife must possess godly qualities, too. A man’s wife may help him qualify or disqualify him from being a biblically acceptable deacon (1 Timothy 3:11). This principle is also true regarding other servants of the church. For instance, elders and preachers can be greatly hindered in their respective works if their wives prove to be detriments to their labors for the Lord.
The qualifications for wives of potential deacons are fewer than the number of qualifications for deacons. “Grave” means the same as for the deacon—serious and dignified, sober minded and conduct commanding respect. Also, Scripture says of her, “not a slanderer”; she does not slander. The deacon’s wife must be “sober,” not intoxicated, moderate in temperament and abstains from alcohol. The deacon’s wife is “faithful in all things,” trustworthy, not a revealer of confidences.
Deacons must serve. One cannot be a deacon unless he meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:8-13. His wife also meets specific qualifications. He is the head of his wife and children. He has a history of Christian service. There is a work for him to do, and he is willing and able to perform it.
A special reward is reserved for faithful deacons (1 Timothy 3:13)—“a good degree,” “good standing” or dignity. In addition, faithful deacons have “boldness,” confidence or cheerful courage. All accountable souls ought to commit themselves to faithful, Christian service, but especially deacons must strive well in Christian service.
The Truth about Sin!
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
Unfortunately, we are surrounded by a world that has in many ways come to love sin. In fact, the love of sin is so prevalent in society that sin is often glamorized and glorified. What was commonly known and accepted as sin has now come to be recognized as sensible. The wide acceptance of sin in our culture today echoes the words of the weeping Prophet of old, “…Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush…” (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12). The picture that is being painted for our young people is persistently chipping away at our morality today, besides not the truth regarding sin. Only God determines what is sin, and only God will paint the real portrait of what sin does. The apostle of love penned, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).
Firstly, God reminds us that sin will take you farther than you want to go! King David’s involvement with sin certainly teaches us this lesson (2 Samuel 11-12). When David sinned by committing sex outside of the marriage relationship, do you think he ever thought that sin would take him down a path of murder, death of a child, another wife for which to care and great distress for the rest of his life (Psalm 32; 51)? You see, the picture that was painted for David while he viewed Bathsheba from the roof-top was one of excitement, fun and freedom. However, the very opposite was true. Sin will take you farther than you want to go!
Secondly, God reminds us that sin will keep you longer than you want to stay! The Prodigal Son certainly revealed this truth in detail. While sin had promised him fun and pleasure, it actually brought him filth and pain (Luke 15:15ff). Sadly, many believe that they have control over the sin in which they are involved. However, sin controls! It is never content to share “the driver’s seat.” Sin will keep you longer than you want to stay!
Lastly, God reminds us that sin will cost you more than you want to pay! Consider the price that sin cost Esau (Genesis 25:29-34). A simple bowl of pottage cost him more than he ever intended. In the “heat of the moment,” it seemed like just pocket change, but after reality set in, he soon realized the high price of sin. Sin will rob your wallet, steal your family, take your sanity and snip your eternal soul. Sin will cost you more than you want to pay!
Such a little word, yet the result is devastating. While Satan denies the reality regarding sin, God speaks the truth about it. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). “Sin,” is just three little letters, but the biggest letter is “I”!